Series Record: 59-32-7
Saturday, January 19
February 3, 2012 and February 25, 2012
Cornell and RPI began last season in very divergent ways. Cornell rode the wave of the vibrant talent of its freshmen to a first-half record of 7-3-1. The Engineers quite oppositely notched only three tallies in the win column during the first half of the 2011-12 season. Seth Appert would turn the fortune around for the Engineers but it would take nearly the remainder of the season. RPI entered the 2012 ECAC Tournament as a number ten seed and was forced to continue its late-season rally on the road. The Engineers traveled to the North Country to Cheel Arena to beat its historic engineering rival, Clarkson, in the first round of the playoffs. RPI then traveled back to the Capital District to confront its burgeoning rival of Union. The Dutchmen would defeat RPI in two games, but Rick Bennett would claim that the Engineers in both games played the Dutchmen the closest that they had been played in the playoffs.
Despite RPI's less-than-stellar performance last season, the Engineers fared reasonably well against Cornell. RPI was the only ECAC team against which Cornell did not earn a win last season during the season and only one of three against which Cornell did not earn a win in regular-season conference play. The Engineers wrestled a surging Big Red team to a 2-2 tie at Houston Field House during a game that NBC Sports televised nationally. Then, RPI scored the last goal of the regular season at Lynah Rink in overtime to defeat Cornell in the last regular-season game of the 2011-12 season.
Seth Appert has attempted to instill in his Engineers the work ethic, drive, unity, and focus that helped them late in the 2011-12 season. His attempts have been met with mixed results. The process on the ice has varied widely as well.
RPI began ECAC play this season holding up its end of the bargain for a conference that was making emphatic early-season statements. The Engineers secured convincingly a win and a tie against Appert's alma mater and 2012 national champion runner-up, Ferris State, in their season opener. RPI's westward trip to Minnesota State did not yield great results, but the team still seemed poised and resilient. It was not until RPI began ECAC play with its seasonal home-and-home series against Union that the wheels came off the wagon that was RPI's chance at early season success.
The Dutchmen beat RPI 4-2 at Houston Field House on Friday. The result the next evening was even worse as Union defeated RPI 7-3 in a game that is best remembered for its distractions and theatrics than its skill and soundness. The Engineers closed out the first half of the 2012-13 regular season with just one more than had they enjoyed in the 2012-13 season.
The second half of the season began out West at St. Cloud State. The Engineers left the National Hockey Center with a split. RPI then played two former ECAC opponents in Boston University and New Hampshire. The former was reeling from an embarrassing 6-0 loss in Denver. The Engineers would make the Terriers earn their redemption. It took overtime, but Boston University would defeat RPI 3-2 after the Engineers had led the game at one point. The Olympic sheet at the Whit might not have agreed well with RPI because the one-time number one team in the nation demolished RPI, 5-2.
RPI's games against Quinnipiac provide a possibly foreboding lens of comparison of this Engineer squad before and after the semester break. The sheer results speak volumes. Quinnipiac defeated RPI 3-1 at Houston Field House. The Engineers then a month later took from the Bobcats the first ECAC standing points that the felines of Connecticut had surrendered with a 1-1 tie. The first game saw Quinnipiac score a power-play goal freshman goaltender Kasdorf. Then, the Bobcats converted on a deflating short-handed six-on-four opportunity to put the Bobcats ahead of the Engineers. The last tally was an empty-net goal, but the damage was done with the dismantling short-handed goal.
The second game saw RPI shut out Quinnipiac's power play. The Bobcats were given six power-play opportunities. The Engineers allowed them nothing. The game was hard-fought and there were several goals reviewed, but RPI outworked Quinnipiac and although they could not solve Hartzell again, RPI took from the Bobcats the first ECAC standing points that they have surrendered. The Engineers may appear to be on an upward trajectory. The inconsistency of this Engineer squad is apparent in how it dropped a 4-1 game to Princeton the next evening. The upside of the Engineers cannot be discounted nonetheless.
An important fact to note is that Seth Appert's apparently preferred starting goaltender, freshman Kasdorf, sustained an injury at St. Cloud State during the first game of the series. Kasdorf has started eight of the Engineers 21 games including a span of six games when he was out for injury. His numbers are impressive as he owns a 0.943 save percentage and a goals-against average of 1.54.
Kasdorf is expected to be available for the Engineers this weekend and will likely get the nod against Cornell. One must wonder what would have given if Kasdorf had started between the pipes in RPI's recent games against Boston University and Quinnipiac. Would Kasdorf's numbers have given? Would you have been the difference between an overtime loss and a tie, and two wins?
The Engineers have only two players that have produced more than four goals over the course of the season. Those Engineers are Laliberte and Haggerty. They have tickled the twine seven and eight times over the course of 20 and 21 games respectively. Laliberte is tied for 99th in the nation in terms of points produced per game while Haggerty is 98th in terms of goals scored per game. The primary offensive threat for the Engineers behind the blue line is Bailen.
This season's Engineers have not generated the offense that is expected of an RPI squad. They have averaged just 2.45 goals per game. That rate of goal production ranks them 38th in the nation.
The Engineers are the second least penalized program in the ECAC. Opponents of RPI have drawn on average only two power-play opportunities in a game. When the Engineers's opponents have those opportunities, they do not convert often as the Engineers have a 85.4% kill rate.
Keys to the Game:
Any observer of Cornell hockey since the Schafer Era began or RPI hockey in general, especially since Seth Appert took the helm, will be shocked at the dynamic of the match-up. Cornell enters the contest as the offensively more potent team with a greater number of high scorers and a higher rate of offensive production. RPI with dependable penalty killing and the return of goaltender with statistically better numbers.
The scenario becomes even more bizarre when one considers what Appert outlined as his strategy for the weekend and the season to come. His primary goal for success was to play shut down defense and limit opponents's shot totals to around 15 shots per game. When did he begin preaching the Gospel of Schafer?
Appert's teams, much like those of Allain at Yale, have been known for their open-ice puck possession, speed, and emphasis upon offensive creativity, not shut-down, stifling defense. Nevertheless, Cornell will confront a team at Houston Field House that will try to out-Cornell Cornell. One should not laugh at that because the last time that a program tried such an approach, it left the rink bound for the Frozen Four in Tampa Bay, FL.
Cornell enters the game with three forwards who are more offensively productive in terms of goals scored than are the top two forwards for RPI. Also, Cornell's Miller, Lowry, and Esposito have achieved their totals in five to seven games fewer. RPI allows 2.77 goals per game. Cornell has averaged 2.56 goals per game, a rate that outpaces the same offensive production of the Engineers.
RPI's power play is ranked among the top half of programs in NCAA Division I hockey. The Engineers of Troy score on 17.0% of their power-play opportunities. Princeton, Denver, Colgate, Ferris State, Colorado College, St. Lawrence, and Dartmouth are all programs that Cornell has confronted that have more efficient power-play units. Cornell's record over the span of games against those opponents is 5-3-2. This highlights that Cornell's penalty killing will need to be at the level that it was at Magness Arena during the second game if the Big Red wants to enjoy success at Houston Field House. In a broader context, Cornell needs to score power-play goals to put its power-play unit back on the score sheet. Cornell has generated great power-play chances in recent games but has not converted since its game against Ferris State in Estero, FL.
Special teams will be crucial, but they likely will not decide the game. The game will likely be decided by two factors. The team that executes its defensive strategy most effectively likely will win. RPI will need to confront two lines that are impressively productive while the remaining lines possess their own threats and have enjoyed success as of late. RPI's offense was flat until recently. The top-three goal scorers for the Engineers were on one line until the second Quinnipiac game. Appert split up the one-time "NHL line" of Neal, Haggerty, and Laliberte. One member only anchored RPI's lines in that game. If Appert continues with this strategy, this will present a more balanced attack from the Engineers. Cornell will have more offensive depth and breadth, but defensively Cornell will receive little respite with the threatening offensive talents of RPI coming at the Big Red in waves.
The difference maker in this game likely will be the goaltender. Even though Cornell has broader and deeper offensive talent this season, but RPI has players and lines that have enjoyed success against some of the best programs in the nation. Cornell's defense will need to be solid, but the game may develop into a duel between Iles and Kasdorf.
Kasdorf will not be the best goaltender that Cornell has faced this season. That impressive or infamous distinction, depending upon one's viewpoint, rests securely with Olkinuora of Denver at this current time. Kasdorf due to injury has not appeared in the requisite number of games to be ranked nationally. The freshman goaltender for the Engineers would rank fourth nationally in terms of save percentage were he eligible to be ranked. He would sit in the national rankings two places above Denver's Olkinuora. Kasdorf is very talented and will make it difficult for Cornell to score. When Cornell does solve Kasdorf, the game will hinge upon which defensive core can assist their goaltender most and which goaltender will do what is needed to ensure victory for his team.
Seth Appert has said that his team has a tendency to "find a way to lose." Cornell needs to make sure that the Engineers need not look too far.
A fact that may be surprising to some is that RPI's record against Cornell is RPI's third-most losingest record against an opponent. RPI has lost to Cornell 59 times. The Engineers have lost more time only to the North Country.
Despite this historical fact, a possible new trend is emerging or re-emerging. Twice in the last three seasons RPI has deprived Cornell of claiming a regular-season title. RPI held Cornell to a tie at the close of the 2009-10 season allowing the Elis of Yale to retains sole ownership of the regular-season title and associated trophy. Last season, RPI defeated Cornell in overtime the evening after Cornell had defeated Union to take the lead in the ECAC standings. RPI's win over Cornell and Union's win over Colgate ensured that Cornell did not add another regular-season title to Cornell's resume.
Cornell has returned the favor in much the same way. Cornell's sweep of RPI during the 2010-11 season, the Engineers's most recent season of dominance, ensured that at season's end Cornell won key tie-breaking comparisons in the final ECAC standings to earn a first-round bye into the 2011 ECAC Tournament. RPI was forced to play in the first round against Colgate. The Raiders upset the potent Engineers en route to defeating the first-seed Dutchmen before heading to Atlantic City.
Cornell was impressive last season. It was not as dominant as it was in 2009-10, but RPI rose to the task. Cornell and RPI have managed to wrest wins or even sweeps, in the case of Cornell over RPI, from each other when the other team is showing dominance. Cornell has seemed impressive lately and shown signs of coming dominance. The clash at Houston Field House will show if this trend is a pattern or an aberration over the last three seasons.
Cornell's wins over the Engineers in the 2010-11 season that helped relegate RPI to playing in the first round of the 2011 ECAC Tournament helped cause the sequence of events that led to RPI's decline to a four seed in the 2011 NCAA Tournament with an NCAA Regional Semifinal meeting with North Dakota. That was RPI's first appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 16 years. It seems amiss that the last time the Engineers won a game in the NCAA Tournament was when they claimed their second national championship 28 years ago.
RPI is one of three programs in the ECAC to have won a national championship. It is the only ECAC program other than Cornell to have won two national championships. The Engineers have won the fifth greatest number of ECAC Championships. The Engineers and their fans rightfully conceive of their program as a great and historic one.